Rest in Heaven: Meaning, Quotes & Alternatives

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Wishing that someone will “Rest in Heaven” has been (and continues to be) one of the most common forms of Christian condolences you’re ever likely to hear. It’s also a beautiful sentiment, even if you don’t necessarily share the religious beliefs that inspired it. “Rest in Heaven” is a "Rest in Peace" synonym that emphasizes the faith of the person saying it. Perhaps more importantly, it often emphasizes the faith of the person they’re saying it about as well.

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However, like any common sentiment, its frequent use can sometimes deprive it of its meaning. What does someone truly mean when they say “Rest in Heaven”? What do they believe resting in Heaven genuinely involves?

The answer will naturally differ from one situation to another. That said, these Rest in Heaven quotes, along with ideas for Rest in Heaven alternatives, should help you more thoroughly appreciate this common phrase’s significance.

What Does Rest in Heaven Mean?

Christian beliefs about the nature of Heaven are more complicated than pop culture might have you assume. Additionally, they’ve developed and changed substantially over the years.

Like many religions, Christianity recognizes that human life can often be difficult, involving a great deal of struggle. However, if someone lives righteously, their soul will go to Heaven after they die, where they can rest in a way that simply isn’t possible during this life.

That’s what most people refer to when they say Rest in Heaven. However, as the following examples prove, many people have their own personal ideas about what resting in Heaven actually involves.

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Rest in Heaven Quotes

“Beyond the door, there’s peace I’m sure, and I know there’ll be no more tears in Heaven.” —Eric Clapton and Will Jennings

Break out the tissues for this one. Famed guitarist Eric Clapton, with the help of songwriter Will Jennings, wrote “Tears in Heaven” (one of the most beloved songs about Heaven ever) as a tribute to his son Conor, who died at the age of four when he fell from a New York City apartment.

Although most of the lyrics in the song involve questioning whether Conor will recognize his father in Heaven, these lines from the final verse express how Clapton himself might find the peace he hopes his son already experiences when he passes. The song is a classic because it addresses how those who hope their loved ones are happy in the afterlife also hope they will overcome their grief when they reunite.

“We hear tears loudly on this side of Heaven. But we don’t often take the time to contemplate the cheers that are even louder on the other side of death’s valley.” —Zig Ziglar

Zig Ziglar was a motivational speaker who changed many lives in his 86 years here. In this quote, like the one above, he reminds us that although we may feel pain because we’ve had to say goodbye to loved ones, if we believe in Heaven, we should take comfort in the idea that those very same loved ones are actually experiencing the ultimate joy this very moment. We’ll also get to share in that joy someday.

“If you are not allowed to laugh in Heaven, I don’t want to go there.” —Martin Luther

Resting in Heaven doesn’t necessarily need to mean not having fun! Martin Luther, one of the most important figures in Christian history, certainly didn’t think so.

This particular rest in peace quote of his reminds us that we don’t need to think of Heaven as a place where the only proper behavior is solemn in nature. On the contrary, laughter can be among Heaven's greatest joys.

“The kingdom of Heaven is like electricity. You don’t see it. It is within you.” —Maharishi Mahesh Yogi

Although Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (who famously introduced The Beatles to meditation and inspired the Star Wars character Yoda) was not a Christian, it’s worth including his quote here because it serves as a reminder that although every religion is unique, beliefs about the afterlife can overlap.

Many religions have their own ideas about Heaven, and many emphasize that the state of being in Heaven doesn’t merely involve the soul actually being in a different realm. Instead, people can create their own internal Heavens by living peacefully.

Alternatives to ‘Rest in Heaven’

It’s entirely understandable if you don’t feel comfortable using the exact phrase “Rest in Heaven” when expressing your condolences. After all, if someone you know has passed away, you’re probably struggling with difficult emotions. You don’t need to make the experience even more painful by expressing condolences in a manner that conflicts with your personal, religious, or spiritual beliefs.

Consider these Rest in Heaven alternatives instead. They express similar feelings without the specific religious sentiments that might make you uncomfortable.

"Gone, but not forgotten."

Some people who don’t feel comfortable with the term “Rest in Heaven” don’t feel comfortable saying “Rest in Peace” either. This is often because they don’t believe in eternal souls. They don’t think someone is resting when they pass away, because resting implies some form of existence, and they reject the idea that a person continues to exist in any capacity after their death.

That’s what makes this particular Rest in Heaven alternative a smart choice in some contexts. It acknowledges the belief that a person (including their soul) is gone, but it also addresses that it’s possible to keep someone “alive” in a different way by remembering them.

"They are a thousand winds that blow."

This is actually a modification of a line from the poem “Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep” by Mary Elizabeth Frye. Naturally, you’ll need to consider whether the person you’re sharing this sentiment with would appreciate it, as it’s certainly not a “go-to” option when choosing Rest in Heaven alternatives.

As the name implies, the poem from which we derive this alternative encourages mourners not to dwell on their sadness when thinking about a lost loved one. That’s the same essential message of Rest in Heaven. Instead of focusing on the pain of losing someone close, it’s valuable to focus on the fact that they are no longer enduring any form of human pain or suffering.

This alternative also takes the sentiment a step further by acknowledging that something as simple as a gust of wind can make us feel we’re somehow in the presence of those we’ve lost. Remember, the beliefs that inspire some to say “Rest in Heaven” also inspire them to believe that the person they’ve lost is no longer gone, they simply exist elsewhere, but they will reunite with them one day.

This phrase offers the same comforting notion. A person may no longer be alive in this world, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t alive in some other way.

Rest in Heaven: Coping with Loss

It’s important to remember this blog entry is merely a general overview of beliefs that have developed for millennia. People have used the phrase Rest in Heaven for numerous reasons throughout history. However, those reasons usually involve honoring someone who has passed on, while also providing comfort to those mourning them.


Sources

  1. Colyard, K.W. “16 Non-Religious Funeral Readings From Poems.” Bustle, BDG Media, Inc., 11 September 2019, www.bustle.com/articles/152207-16-non-religious-funeral-readings-from-poems
  2. Eha, Brian Patrick. “Zig Ziglar: A Life Lived at the Top.” Entrepreneur, Entrepreneur Media Inc., 29 November 2019, www.entrepreneur.com/article/225115
  3. Grassi, Tony. “Tragedy Inspires Eric Clapton's 'Tears in Heaven'.” Guitar World, Future PLC, 24 June 2011, www.guitarworld.com/features/tragedy-inspires-eric-claptons-tears-heaven
  4. Ian, Blake. “Why I Learned Transcendental Meditation Three Years Ago And Why I Still Practice It.” TM Blog, Maharishi Foundation USA, 08 August 2014, www.tm.org/blog/meditation/three-years-of-transcendental-meditation/
  5. Leigh, Spencer. “A Life in Focus: Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Indian guru who introduced The Beatles to transcendental meditation.” The Independent, Independent Digital News and Media Ltd., 07 February 2008, www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/maharishi-mahesh-yogi-india-guru-the-beatles-meditation-a8543666.html
  6. Manser, Martin H. “The Westminster Collection of Christian Quotations.” Westminster John Knox Press, 2001.
  7. Shamoradian, Feridoun Shawn. “Minds of Reason.” Dr. Feridoun Shawn Shamoradian, 2019, 
  8. Talbott, Thomas. “Heaven and Hell in Christian Thought.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, The Metaphysics Research Lab, 17 February 2017, plato.stanford.edu/entries/heaven-hell/

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